Questions and Answers

Answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about veal farming.

Where does veal come from?

Veal is a nutritious and nutrient-rich meat that is produced from the male offspring of dairy cows. Dairy cows give birth once a year in order to continue producing milk. While female offspring serve as cows to the milking herd, male calves are either sold to veal farmers where they may be fed up to 500 pounds and marketed as veal or these calves can also be fed up to approximately 1200 pounds and marketed as beef.

How long does a veal calf stay with the dairy cow? When and why are calves separated from the cow?

Both male and female offspring of dairy cows are normally removed from cows within three days of giving birth. This separation allows dairy cows to return to the herd and produce milk for human consumption. While calves are not with the dairy cow following birth, they still receive her colostrum, or first milk, within 24 hours. Full of antibodies and essential nutrients, colostrum gives the calves' immune systems a healthy boost. Early separation also allows the dairy farmer to measure the amount of colostrum the calf receives, within the proper time frame. 

In addition, certain udder diseases in cows and intestinal problems in calves can be more effectively controlled with early separation. Also, the much smaller calf could be physically injured and face health challenges by remaining within the herd of much larger, mature cows.

How big are veal calves when they are marketed?

Typically, veal farmers buy surplus dairy bull calves at about 100-120 pounds and raise them for approximately 20-22 weeks, until they weigh upward of 475-500 pounds.

What does milk-fed mean?

Milk-fed, special-fed and formula-fed are names given to nutritionally balanced milk protein based diets used in veal farming. These diets contain iron and 40 other essential nutrients including proteins, amino acids, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. Conceptually, the milk-based diet is very similar to infant formula.

How are veal calves housed?

Milk-fed veal calves are housed in a well-lit barn, allowing family veal farmers to easily monitor calves for changes in health, behavior and eating patterns.

Veal farmers have begun to transition from individual stalls to group pens and today, a majority of veal calves are raised in group pens. Farmers continue to innovate and perfect group housing but generally ensure that veal calves are moved to group pens of two or more by ten-weeks of age. Veal calves raised in groups require dedicated management to limit competition for food and water, fighting and injury. Calves can comfortably lie down in natural positions, stand up and groom themselves.

How are veal barns ventilated?

A climate controlled ventilation system is monitored through the use of fans, inlets and controls. Ventilation systems affect air temperature, moisture level and condensation on surfaces, air speed, odor and gas concentrations, and dust levels. As the ventilating system exchanges air, it brings in oxygen to sustain life.

Heat is supplied during cold weather to maintain the desired environment for veal production, which is less stressful to the calf than a widely varying environment. During the first one to two weeks after birth, barn temperature of 60°F to 70°F is desired to help alleviate stress from the calves. As calves grow and mature, room temperature is dropped to 55°F by four weeks of age.

Are veal calves anemic?

Veal producers carefully watch each calf to be sure it is not suffering any clinical symptoms of anemia, such as weakness or loss of appetite. Calves must receive diets with iron to meet the animals' requirements for normal health and behavior. A calf that does not eat will not grow.

Why is veal meat light in color?

The light meat results from the age of the calf and the level of myoglobin (iron content) in the muscle. Myoglobin produces a red pigment that affects the color of the meat. To keep the meat light, without harming calf health, the amount of iron a calf receives is controlled through a nutritionally balanced milk-based diet and monitored on a regular basis.

Do veal calves routinely receive antibiotics?

The only time that veal calves receive "therapeutic" doses of antibiotics (levels high enough to treat illness) is when they are sick and recommended by a veterinarian. As soon as the animal recovers, the use of therapeutic medication is discontinued. Veal farmers, working with their veterinarian, employ specific, government-approved antibiotics to ward off disease. Health products approved for use with veal calves are painstakingly scrutinized by both the Food and Drug Administration and the manufacturer before being put on the market. The FDA also regulates the labeling of the product, the doses permitted, and the withdrawal period. Click here to learn more about antibiotic use and food safety.  

What percentage of veal is government inspected?

Federal regulation dictates that each and every food-producing animal marketed, including veal calves, be visually inspected for signs of disease and other food safety concerns. If visual inspection shows a potential problem, the meat is held and tested. If any of these tests show violation for residue, the meat never reaches the food supply.